Mar 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden officials travel to Mexico and Guatemala for border surge solutions

Migrants in the Donna overflow facility. Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)

Three of President Biden's top border officials are traveling to Mexico today and then Guatemala to meet with top foreign government officials about solutions to migration surges at the U.S. border, two senior administration officials told reporters Monday morning.

Why it matters: The administration is scrambling to handle the skyrocketing numbers of migrant kids and families crossing from Mexico into the country. The majority come from the Northern Triangle — traveling through both Guatemala and Mexico to cross the border into the U.S.

  • 75% of family members and unaccompanied minors who crossed into the U.S. last month came from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to agency data.

Exclusive photos shared with Axios from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas, reveal the crowded, makeshift conditions at the border.

  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) provided the photos to Axios to raise awareness about the situation. He did not take the photos himself and said they were snapped over the weekend.
  • Because the Biden administration has restricted media coverage at housing facilities, images like these offer a rare window into conditions.
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Photo: Courtesy of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)

The details: Southern border coordinator Roberta Jacobson, the National Security Council's senior director for the Western Hemisphere Juan González and the State Department's recently-appointed Northern Triangle special envoy Ricardo Zúñiga will travel to Mexico today to meet with the foreign secretary, deputy foreign secretary and other officials.

  • González and Zuniga will then travel to Guatemala to meet with Guatemalan officials, including President Alejandro Giammattei and Foreign Minister Pedro Bolo.
  • The trip "builds on the administration’s focused work on addressing the root causes of irregular migration as a cyclical regional issue that neither starts nor stops at the southern border of the United States," a senior administration official said on the call.
  • Due to technological difficulties, officials did not take questions.

Between the lines: The officials indicated the focus will be on how the U.S. can help alleviate corruption, violence, economic devastation and effects of climate change in parts of Central America — key drivers of migration.

  • Immigration experts and the Biden administration have long considered U.S. investment in Central America to be the best long-term strategy for mitigating surges at the border.
  • "Really, the only way to sustainably address the root causes of migration is to make sure that you're promoting job creation in places like Guatemala," one official said.
  • Biden has touted a four-year, $4 billion plan to address the root causes of migration from Central America — including help for parts of southern Mexico.
  • Officials also said they are working with Northern Triangle countries to create legal pathways for migration to avoid migrants having to make the perilous trip.

The big picture: On a March 4 call, Biden and Giammattei agreed their teams would meet to begin work on a plan to address migration. The Biden administration also has been "in constant dialogue" with Mexico, according to one official, but wanted to meet in person.

  • The U.S. has already reportedly been asking Mexico for help to get the border numbers under control, including taking in more migrant families.
  • The day after reports that the Biden administration would send 2.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine to Mexico, the country's immigration agency announced that it would be sending additional immigration law enforcement to its southern border with Guatemala, citing child trafficking concerns.
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